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How to Write Letters

Updated on June 12, 2019

Editor's Note: A piece from a manuscript about my childhood years in Hastings, UK.

....Being at that age, I never wrote much. Other than the hellos and goodbuys, and how is everyone, it was very difficult to put pen to paper. My favorite was: "Hello dad, I hope everything is alright, and I am well", and I'd sort of get stuck, finishing the letter a couple of lines down. Somebody should have told me then that writing a letter was an art form, a simple plethora of words delicately put together into readable sentences.

I learned that much later when I worked in journalism, telling my colleagues to put down as much as you can in simple clear expression, and the fact that nobody is charging for the words you write down but that used to fall on deaf ears.

However, at that age, the writing wheel had yet to turn, it definitely needed oiling, rather than faltering and squealing. I then admired those who wrote and received long letters; I did not know how they managed to put so many words on paper that would play around in lines after lines and in sentences that would neatly follow one another. I was never one of them, no matter how much I wished it.

On many occasions, I saw many at school write endless long letters, with me looking furtively, quickly scanning the blobs of ink on paper. I'd imagine what was being said, detailed accounts with parents asking how is school, how their sons were doing in classes, how is food, how they are sleeping, the role of matron and so on. I envied them.

I'd imagine as well, the parents writing things about how they missed them, different accounts about their homes, how they can't wait to see them in a couple of weeks, and take them home for the weekend.

I’d see them at the table we’d sit for breakfast, one of three long dining tables, engrossed in papering over what seemed to be pages and pages of hand-written text from their parents, totally oblivious to the noise and clamor going on.

With me it was different. I was a long way from home, and the nearest house I was now associating with was the household run by Mr. and Mrs. Miles. My true home was overseas, far away, you had to get there by plane, crossing seas and land, long distance.

My Arabic language was slow and fading rapidly. Because I wasn’t hearing my spoken language, it was gradually becoming couched in the deep layers of my brain. My vocabulary was shrinking, becoming mundane to a handful of words and sentences.

The expressions were becoming rusty, feeble and shallow. Because I wasn't writing in my own language, I wasn't able to write letters with the degree of depth I would have liked to recreate warm relations with my parents at a distance.

There was a sense of why bother because my father phoned me frequently, I would talk to my mother and try and tell her as best as I can about how I am doing. The phone calls were a source of revival from home, but they seemed such a long way off, barely hearing the sound from the other side with frequent interruptions. I felt they were on Mars.

But fading or not, their voices, mother, father, the odd uncle or brother, were there. I was contented, so in time there became no need for letters, and I gave up on the whole idea.


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